Travel has become just another line on the bottom of my resume under recreational activities that I don't actually do enough of, right next to cooking (Chicken Parm is a specialty) and just above Pilates (I don't do Pilates). I've traveled overseas within the last year, but I haven't been anywhere new in a long time. Turkey was new, yet familiar. New because Istanbul, being equal parts Europe and equal parts Asia, creates something greater than the sum of its parts. (Whoever first said the East-meets-West bit to describe Istanbul is a genius.) Familiar because walking through the turmeric and saffron scented stalls in the Spice Market brought me back to the wonder I experienced as a four year old sampling dates at the local bazaars in Jeddah, Saudia Arabia, where I grew up.
I feel rejuvenated! Not physically because in that aspect, I actually feel like crap. Only an 18 hour flight after wandering through a Byzantine temple, I stepped into back-to-school LA traffic. But emotionally, Turkey has breathed new life into me. I want to rid my life of STUFF and fill it instead with travel, life experiences and baklava. It's not lost on me that I work in the fashion industry and have made a career out of buying things to fill other people's lives and closets. So I know it sounds silly but damn, LET ME LIVE (and EAT and PRAY and LOVE.)
Here’s my photo journal through Turkey (with some tips and recommendations at the bottom if you ever plan on making your way over there...)
Travel Tips and Recommendations:
Istanbul Accommodation: We stayed at the Hilton Bomonti, which honestly was way too nice for the lot I brought with me but highly recommended for the best shower of your life. This is the shower head to end all shower heads! It's a new hotel with modern amenities as it is a business hotel but isn't situated in the heart of Istanbul (or what tourists would consider to be the heart…). However, it’s only about a 15 minute cab ride (10-20 Turkish Lira) to Taksim and 20-45 minutes (20-40 TL) to Sultanahmet (old city) depending on traffic. About 30-45 minutes (60 TL) to Ataturk Airport.
Istanbul Transportation: Cabs are generally pretty inexpensive in Istanbul but many cab drivers don’t speak English and those that did were constantly on the hustle. During rush hour or traffic coming home from clubs at night, we had drivers refusing to turn on their meters and charging us up to 65 Lira for a cab ride that had cost us 20 the day prior. On our last night coming back to the hotel, we haggled one driver down to 35 Lira and gave him 2 bottles of champagne. On the other hand, we did also have one cabbie who played fun Turkish trance gave us a CD when we asked (and by asked, I mean we pointed at the car radio and said “Music?”). Istanbul Metro is clean, air conditioned and pretty straight forward to use, costing 4 TL per ride.
Airport Transportation: Cabs from Ataturk International Airport cost about 40-60 TL max into the city, but Sabiha Gokcen airport is further away. I was cautioned (by the internet, lol) to not take cab but rather arrange for a car or take public transportation. So we did both! We used the Havataş shuttle leaving from Taksim (13 TL) and that took us about an hour and a half to get to the airport. On the way back, I booked a car costing 175 Turkish Lira for a private van for 5 people. The car company reps barely spoke English so we had to ask several Turkish people around us to help us find our driver.
Istanbul Food: Try: Meşhur Filibe Köftecisi in Fatih. Apparently Kofte is to Istanbul what Pizza is to New York. A million places around, all claiming to be the best. These are meatballs served with a pepper and tomatoes and a white bean and onion salad on the side. Friends of mine met blogger Tuba Santasi here and she pretty much directed our food choices in Istanbul from that point forward. Per her blog recommendation, we went to Kantin in Nişantaşı and were not disappointed. (Enjoyed the Almond Soup and Watermelon Juice but guessing from the chalkboard menu, their options probably change daily.) Other things to try: The most obvious choice would be the Döner Kebab, then try having Traditional Turkish Breakfast which is basically a shitton of meat and cheese and this tomato egg scramble thing called Menemen. Also will come with this amazing whipped butter and honey (a combination I can't believe I didn't come up with). If you are feeling particularly adventurous, try the Kokoreç (sheep intestines on your choice of bread, wrap or with rice).
Cappadocia: (pronounced Kap-uh-dok-ya) We flew Pegasus Airlines (warning: extremely janky airline, maybe between Easy Jet and Ryan Air in jankiness level) from Istanbul S. Gokcen Airport to Nevşehir. We stayed at an affordable cave hotel called Doors of Cappadocia Hotel that offered free WiFi and breakfast. For those traveling in groups, they do accommodate groups of 3, so ask for an extra bed if you need one! There are several balloon companies in the area but I’m a big baby and am terrified of heights so I chose Butterfly Balloons due to the highest TripAdvisor ratings (+ Rick Steves recommends it, lol). Our pilot looked like Vincent Cassel, they served us breakfast before and champagne after and they got me back on the ground in one piece so I give them 5 stars just for that. A friend of mine booked us a day tour (private van + private guide) which picked us up at 9 to tour us through all the cities in the region of Cappadocia as well as the underground cities below. This is highly recommended considering we barely saw cabs throughout the region so getting around would've been impossible.
photo credit: Bianca Gochuico & Karen Chang